I’m Taking My Name Off the Institute for Composer Diversity

Many of you, like me, have been following developments at the Institute for Composer Diversity this year. The organization, originally created (as I understand it) as an intentional programming resource for educators and directors alike, has grown beyond its initial constraints and begun positioning itself as a juggernaut of diversity in music, particularly in the wind band world. I’ve recommended ICD as a resource in the past—even put them on my master list of resources I co-sign—but, sadly, that endorsement has come to an end.

Here’s the thing: like most institutions, ICD has messed up in the past, often pretty publicly. That in itself isn’t the end of the world! But it has increasingly turned a blind eye to the concerns and critiques of marginalized composers ourselves—the very people they claim to represent. That continual unwillingness to listen, acknowledge issues, and work efficiently to correct them (or to correct them at all) has soured their name among many folks who carry with them more expertise through lived experience in diversity and inclusion than many on the ICD staff.

I’ve also grown increasingly frustrated at ICD’s continued positioning at Midwest and other high-profile conferences as an authority on intentional programming, when in reality they offer very little (if any!) information or best practices on establishing relationships with the composers referenced within their database. There’s no discussion of the fact that many of us make more on commissions than we’ll ever make in individual score sales, no talk about how many of us are self-published because publishing favors notoriety over financial success (and many of us can’t get a foot in the door with the big houses, anyway). There’s no discussion about trauma performativity or the conditions under which it might be appropriate and meaningful to ask a particular composer to write a piece that addresses a specific marginalization or violence. There’s not even any discussion of ownvoices and the importance of prioritizing diverse stories told by the populations they most directly impact. It’s just a database, accompanied by vague encouragement to make marginalized composers part of your ensemble’s stat sheet without any attention paid to how their work actually informs and influences your programming needs and wants.

The stats they suggest are pretty conservative, too. If you go to one of the live ICD presentations, you’ll hear someone (probably Rob Deemer, head honcho of the project) say these are suggested starting points, but if that important caveat is anywhere on their website, I have yet to stumble upon it. (The website does cite a “minimum” stat, but it’s very easy to skip over the importance of the word while trying to process the numbers that follow.)

Among my biggest personal struggles with ICD’s work, though, is that it essentially weaponizes its composers’ marginalizations and markets to band directors without providing any specifics about their work, artistic practices, areas of specialization (beyond instrumentation), or even specifics of identity that composers may wish to share, like pronouns and other information that may vary from the traditional expectations that come with certain genders. We are reduced down to data points on a sheet, names that are guaranteed to check an ensemble’s diversity box without paying too much attention to the specifics of our identities and how those important distinctions might inform our artistic work.

Over the past year, it’s become clear that in allowing non-composers and others to submit information on a composer’s behalf, the Institute has inadvertently outed many queer composers without their consent. This isn’t just careless administration; it’s doxxing. A failure to check in with composers and ensure they consent to specific information being featured on a very public, easily searchable website is a colossal breach of trust. How are we to assume an organization that outs us alongside our contact information actually values our work, when they can’t be bothered to even consider how the release of this information might affect our day-to-day safety?

I first heard rumors of an email that would be sent to featured composers to confirm their presence on the ICD databases several months ago. At the time, I figured I’d sit on my thoughts for a couple weeks, then, when the email arrived, decide how to best proceed. But, like I said, it was months, not weeks—a time span that included much of Pride month, when many of us in the queer community had to lock down our social media to protect from coordinated doxxing attempts. All the while, our information remained readily available on ICD’s website. By the time the email arrived (a little over a week ago), I had lost faith that the Institute cared enough about the composers on their lists to protect them proactively.

Below is a copy of the letter I sent to ICD in response to their request to confirm my information in their databases. I am posting it in full because I firmly believe that an organization whose main mission is publicly espousing a reductive flavor of intentional programming should be held publicly accountable. I’ll post some suggested best practices next week, but for now, here’s what I told them (please note my dig at website hits at the end was due largely to the emphasis on their own stats they place in their promotional material):

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JK Rowling, TERFs, Bioessentialism, Sexual Assault, and Trauma Performativity (or, in other words… yikes)

I read the essay.

Some of you likely know exactly which essay I’m talking about, but for those who don’t, I’ve just finished reading JK Rowling’s lengthy response to the correct and justified backlash she’s received this week for being more openly anti-trans than usual. As folks on Twitter may know, this isn’t Rowling’s first TERF-y moment: for at least several months, she has made statements in support of or liked Tweets by known anti-trans public figures. This week, she took severe issue with delineating a difference between “people who menstruate” and “women,” sparking the backlash that’s led to where we are now.

First, a note on this: we need a difference between “people who menstruate” and “women,” because those two things aren’t inherently linked. The Venn diagram of the two is not a circle. In obvious ways, it ignores both the trans community and the intersex community, and I’d be remiss to erase either group from the conversation. (If you’re not sure what intersex means, here’s a great primer. Please note some historical descriptors of this community are considered degrading and should no longer be used.) It also imposes ridiculous limits on AFAB (assigned female at birth) people: what happens when you hit menopause? Do you no longer count? What about if you’re on an IUD, and as a result you don’t have a period? What about AFAB people who never have a period at all?

That said, we’re not going to spend time centering cis women past this point. The argument is massively more harmful to transgender and intersex people, whose biological features may not align with the tropes (and, by extension, societal expectations) associated with their gender(s). And while it can be easy to encourage marginalized people to not care what society says, have you ever educated yourself (by reading plenty of available material, NOT by foisting emotional labor on your nearest relevant person) on how difficult it is for trans and intersex people to get quality health care? Are you aware that literally yesterday the Trump administration made this even more difficult by giving insurers and health care providers the ability to openly discriminate against trans people? Did you know that many intersex people are operated on at a young age without their consent to attempt to make their bodies conform to one binary or the other, often with negative long-term side effects? Have you realized that the insidious goal of anti-trans rhetoric is to produce tangible policy changes that, by doing things like cutting off access to health care (at any time, but especially during a pandemic), further disadvantage the trans community and will literally, quantitatively cost lives?

Continue reading JK Rowling, TERFs, Bioessentialism, Sexual Assault, and Trauma Performativity (or, in other words… yikes)

On Identity (specifically, mine)

I have tried to write this post three times already.

On the one hand, it could have taken a lot longer to figure these words out—identity is a tricky thing—but on the other hand, most of my blogs have a single iteration. Drafts, sure, but throwing out a whole post and doing it again? Almost never.

I have tried to write this post three times. Enough to know that no amount of smooth introduction is going to do anything useful for me.

So, hi.

My name is Megan DeJarnett. Some of you already know me and love (/fear?) me. I’m a lot of things, and I could list them here, but today I’m just going to mention the ones that aren’t dependent on my art or my career: I’m a demigray genderfluid woman, but usually I just say I’m queer. (I’m also pan, because of how my demisexuality informs the rest of my attraction; I hadn’t named that when I came out, so I’ve updated this to reflect this current reality. Like the rest of this, that isn’t particularly new, just a continuing discovery.)

Remember the end of Untouchable? When I said things were more complicated now? This is why. Because now, we’re not just talking about sexism aimed at straight, cisgender women. (We haven’t been for awhile, if you look closely—I’ve been sprinkling in more things over time—but I’m not going to keep pretending being female is the only part of the equation that applies to me.) Actually, the original version of Untouchable (which I lovingly called 5700) was going to dive into some of this. The post was going to end with me coming out. It was going to be an even bigger piece than it already was. Thankfully, one of my confidants on my review team pointed out that I owed my identity more than that. (thanks, Leila!)

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Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and the Importance of Teaching Identity

It’s December 1, 2019, and I’m propped against the comfiest pillows in my apartment, poring over the second edition of Robert Walser’s Keeping Time: Readings in Jazz History in preparation for a forthcoming guest lecture. I’ve got tons of time—until sometime next semester—but because I’m trying to highlight the connections between my musical work as a whole and the jazz tradition, I’m looking for sources that will back up my arguments. I don’t expect to spend much time in the legitimacy flames this time around, but ideally, I’ll use this lecture again in the future. So I’m reading Keeping Time in full, re-engaging with my favorite parts and digging deeper into things I might have missed or flat-out did not read when I first brought the book home as a junior in college.

While I’m trying to find useful words by men to prepare for the inevitable (hopefully distant) day one decides to argue I’m a poser who doesn’t conform because I don’t understand complex harmony or virtuosic playing or some shit like that, I’m also giving myself full permission to luxuriate in the (few) moments of words penned by women. So I dipped my toes into Hazel V. Carby’s “The Sexual Politics of Women’s Blues” like it was the hot tub of my dreams. I wasn’t disappointed—in fact, in the span of a single essay, my world rearranged itself.

Continue reading Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and the Importance of Teaching Identity

Token Hire

I don’t like being the only gender-marginalized person in an ensemble. If you asked my peers about it, they’d probably roll their eyes and laugh. Yeah, that’s Megan. I don’t have to be with other women, though that’s obviously a blessing when it comes along; in LA, there were plenty of occasions when I performed with a section or a group whose members were male-coded but included at least one other person somewhere on the gender spectrum beyond cis man. I’ve fallen in love with working among others whose struggles to be accepted in our professional environments speak to something in my own experience. These moments allow for subtle, important moments of solidarity: little reminders that we’re not alone.

That said, I spend a lot of time being the only gender-marginalized person in an ensemble. (#BrassPlayerProblems #JazzProblems.) It’s difficult to explain why the difference is so stark, especially when I’m trying to make sense of it to folks who have probably never found themselves in such a situation. (And even if my cis male friends have, y’all don’t have centuries of systemic gendered oppression weighing on you and affecting your treatment within that scenario.) But when a well-reasoned fear of the consequences—both professional and personal—of putting even one toe out of line has been bred into you from the moment you chose your career, when you work in an industry that has a tradition of violence of all types against your gender(s), when you’re working around people you know won’t speak up if someone makes you uncomfortable, you spend a lot more time worrying and being quiet instead of working to create the art you want.

However, it’s 2019. Professionals the world over are realizing all-male ensembles can’t continue to be their default. Overall, that’s a really good thing; doors are beginning to open for gender-marginalized folks who wouldn’t have had many options a few decades ago. There’s a dark side to the change, though: musicians are beginning to reach for women and other gender-marginalized performers to incorporate into their ensembles so they can say they have one. It’s a performative, superficial kind of inclusivity that draws in folks facing this kind of oppression without considering the systemic structural changes that might be needed to make us feel welcome. It’s hastily scribbling down the answers to your math homework in the ten minutes before class without bothering to show your work (because you’re copying someone else’s), and the results are usually the same: if you don’t have a plan for getting from point A to point B, you’ll only ever get partial credit.

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Here’s Your List: Recommended Resources for Folks Starting Out

Hello! If you’ve been directed to this page, you’ve probably spoken to me recently (or somewhat-recently) about looking for resources on gender marginalization, misogyny, sexual assault, trauma, or some combination of the bunch. You’ve also done so in a way that is respectful and makes it clear your self-education on these topics is a consistent priority. First of all, thank you for being cool about it. Taking the time not only to further your own understanding of the world around you but to ask appropriately and kindly for resources to assist your endeavors is a big deal.

Below is a by-no-means-comprehensive list of resources I hold in high regard. I recommend digging into them at a pace and in an order that makes the most sense for you. Be sure to take care of yourself as you go. Happy reading!

Last update: September 29, 2020

Continue reading Here’s Your List: Recommended Resources for Folks Starting Out